No, the Saudis Aren’t ‘Defending Themselves’

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Paul Pillar capably sums up why supporting the war on Yemen is not in America’s interest:

Neither does the administration’s policy toward the Yemeni war accord with a realist perspective of where U.S. interests in the area do and do not lie. The United States does not have a stake in the outcome of civil warfare in Yemen. The Houthi rebellion is rooted in very local issues involving what the Houthis contend has been insufficient central government attention to the interests of tribal elements in the north of the country. Nor do the Houthis pose more than a trivial threat to anyone else in the region [bold mine-DL]. Although the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia have made a big deal about missiles that the Houthis have fired at Saudi Arabia, those firings are pinpricks compared to the aerial assault in the other direction for which the missiles have been an attempt at retaliation. Missiles would not be launched if the Saudis and Emiratis had never launched their destructive expedition.

Insofar as the US has any interests in Yemen, they have been harmed by the coalition’s war. The coalition has not only struck bargains with and recruited members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but the chaos that their intervention has sown has benefited AQAP greatly. The US has been backing a Saudi and Emirati policy that increases the threat from AQAP, and it has done so knowingly for several years. These governments are not our “allies,” and their reckless policy is making the US and our genuine allies less secure.

One of the more irritating and dishonest defenses of US support for the war is the claim that the Saudis and Emiratis are “defending” themselves and the US is merely assisting with that “self-defense.” The record shows that the Saudis and Emiratis are the international aggressors here, and there would be no serious threat to Saudi Arabia and the UAE if they had not been bombing, invading, and starving Yemen since 2015. The coalition hides behind the fig leaf that they are trying to restore the discredited former president, but Hadi has no support inside Yemen and the UAE long since moved on to support other proxies as they try to carve out a sphere of influence for themselves. External intervention in Yemen’s conflict has not only prolonged and intensified the war, but it has also devastated the civilian population, created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and exacerbated the country’s existing political divisions. The Saudi coalition’s war is unnecessary, unjustified, and has created enormous evils that will plague Yemen and the region for a long time to come. The war is indefensible, and so is US support for it.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.

One thought on “No, the Saudis Aren’t ‘Defending Themselves’”

  1. Nor do the Houthis pose more than a trivial threat to anyone else in the region

    the use of that word ‘trivial’ is important. What you see turn up again and again is that things are argued on principle instead of as a matter of amounts. Proportionality is in fact a very important principle. I think lawyers often have a problem with that and they prefer principles.
    The psychopath interpretation of the right to self defense is that you can respond to the tiniest threat with overwhelming violence. Israel is a prime example because with its policy of asymmetric response any pretext justifies an all out attack.
    But the same argument on principle was used with the chemical weapons of Saddam : proof of existence of any chemical weapon was considered as sufficient reason for overthrowing the country, while an estimate of military threat is entirely different. There size matters. Scott Ritter’s analysis at the time was one of estimating military threat and not of principle: whatever chemical weapons there were, they could not amount to much.
    Nevermind that the proof for chemical weapons was false.The principle of chemical weapons was constantly conflated with an actual threat.

    Currently we have the argument of Russian interference where only the principle has to be demonstrated and not the extent. I would want to know the extent before I would raise any alarms. There is always some dirty stuff going on at the noise level so I’m not that interested in the principle. (For James Risen the principle is very important.)

    In Yemen you have the principle of Iranian interference. At the same time the conflict is commonly depicted as a proxy war with Iran. It is quite possible that there is some Iranian involvement and that eventually it will be proven. This is entirely different from ‘proxy war’. For that you need major , even dominant involvement.

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